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History of Gloucester Rugby

by Leana Kell

Harlequin Football Club

Gloucester Rugby is currently regarded as one of the best rugby union teams both nationally and worldwide, competing in the Aviva Premiership. Formed in 1873, the club's home stadium is within the district of Kingsholm just outside Gloucester City Centre.

Gloucester are also referred to as the 'Cherry and Whites' by supporters and the media due to the club's traditional cherry and white hooped shirts. Some of the most exciting matches played by Gloucester are with local rivals, Bath, Worcester Warriors and Bristol, all referred to as West Country derbies.

Centurion takes a look below at the rich and varied history of Gloucester Rugby from its early beginnings to its current position in the English rugby league.

The early years

Gloucester Football Club (as it was originally known) formed in September of 1873 during a meeting in a local hotel attended by around 45 people. The very first game was held the following month against College School. Subsequent games were held at the Spa, owned by Gloucester Cricket Club and sub-let to the club during the winter season. By 1876, Gloucester had established a permanent home at the Spa with the first gate-taking game against the Flamingoes held in February.

During the first few years, Gloucester Football Club established itself as a formidable force in rugby union, notably winning seventeen games in the 1879-80 season and losing just two. In the 1880s, the crowds of spectators increased significantly with three to four thousand spectators attending games. By 1891, the club had left the Spa and secured bigger premises at Kingsholm to house its 1,100 members. The first game at Kingsholm was kicked off by the Mayor of Gloucester in front of 4,000 spectators.

The move to Kingsholm was preceded by a temporary suspension for Gloucester by the RFU for breaching regulations relating to the recruitment of players. Due to an imminent clamp down, the club were promptly reinstated.

The first half of the twentieth century was a successful one for Gloucester and saw the club win more matches than they lost. In 1914, play was suspended during the First World War when virtually all of Gloucester's playing membership joined the 5th Gloucestershire Regiment. Eighteen players were lost to the war with many seriously injured, but the club did manage to recover several of its key players, and in the 1920/21 season, led by Fred Webb, the club won the 23 games they played at home and lost only two away matches.

Unfortunately, the following season was remembered for the amount of players sent from the field by officials - fourteen for fighting, seven for arguing with the referee, six for language and one for foul play. Leicester even cancelled their Gloucester RFC fixture due to the club's growing reputation. 

Kingsholm Stadium

In 1891, Gloucester Rugby left the Spa and moved to a bigger ground in Kingsholm, which has been the club’s home ever since. In 1926, a Grandstand containing 1,750 seats was built to increase the stadium’s seating capacity, until in 1932 it was destroyed by fire, significantly denting the club’s finances. Today, Kingsholm is well known for being one of the best rugby stadiums in England, in terms of capacity and atmosphere The most famous part of Kingsholm is known as 'The Shed', a (usually)  covered terrace running the length of the pitch, that fills up well in advance of kick-off on big match days. 

The 70s & 80s

The 1970s started well for Gloucester when in 1972 they received their first trophy after beating Mosely in the inaugural National Knock-out competition at Twickenham,. Cup success came again in 1978 in the first John Player Cup when Gloucester beat the Leicester Tigers to claim the trophy.

The 1980s was not a memorable year for the club with its only highlight being the shared John Player trophy in 1982. Gloucester RFU were finding themselves in the ever-increasing shadow of Bath who were fast becoming a force to be reckoned with, beating them twice to finish top of the league in 1988-89 and 1989-90.

The professional era

In 1995, Gloucester finally became a professional club although lack of investment hindered the club's initial progression, until in 1997 Tom Walkinshaw took over as the club's owner and former French captain Phillpe Saint Andre was enlisted to replace Richard Hill as club coach. The future was starting to look bright.

Two years later in 1999-00, Gloucester made the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, only to be beaten by the Leicester Tigers, but already the long-term benefits to recruitment at the club were starting to pay off with the team demonstrating top form in 2003 winning their first cup final in 25 years. The team looked set to win the league after finishing 15 points ahead of Wasps, but after a disastrous final at Twickenham, they  finished as runner-ups again. Subsequently, Nigel Melville left the club and was replaced by Dean Ryan for the 2005/06 season.

2005 to present

2005/06 was the year that Gloucester won the European Challenge Cup and the team looked the strongest it had in years. The following year, they built on their success in Europe and finished top of the Guinness Premiership, but despite finishing in first place, Leicester managed to beat the team in the Championship final and they were subsequently named runners-up again.

In 2008, Martin St Quinton bought 25 per cent of the club and became vice chairman. Gloucester began the 2007–08 Guinness Premiership as favourites, and started the season well, winning their first five games. The club went on to fulfil Dean Ryan's vision, to establish themselves in Europe, but despite coming top of their group they lost to Munster in the Quarter Final of the Heineken Cup. After a series of victories including defeating Bath in an intense encounter at Kingsholm, Gloucester Rugby won the league for the second year running, and then subsequently lost to Leicester Tigers for the second year running, but in a much closer final resulting 25-26.

In June 2009, Dean Ryan left the club after a series of further disappointments. He was replaced by assistant Bryan Redpath. A year later club owner Tom Walkinshaw died suddenly from cancer and was replaced by David McKnight who was appointed as non-executive chairman in April 2011. 

A series of resignations and new appointments followed as Gloucester continued to flounder under the current management, until in 2014, Gloucester Rugby appointed David Humphreys as the new Director of Rugby. Things were finally looking up and in 2015, Gloucester defeated Edinburgh Rugby 19-13 to finally bring home the European Rugby Challenge Cup of the 2014/15 season.

In February 2016, it was announced that Martin St Quinton would become chairman of Gloucester Rugby with immediate effect, after he acquired 100% full ownership.

Gloucester are currently eighth in the Aviva Premiership.